Does Beer Go Bad?

by Karl | Updated: July 28, 2019

Have you ever left cooked food in the fridge for too long and it spoiled? Were you counting on milk for your breakfast, saw it spoiled and had to go without eating?

Then you may have a slight idea of the desolation that comes with having a beer go bad.

Don’t worry if you can’t fathom the idea; it’s understandable. However, no one deserves having to go through such a loss. With that in mind, read below to learn how to avoid it–or not let your beverage pass in vain.

How long does beer last?

As you may know, beer comes with a label indicating its lifespan. What you don’t know is that beer can last for long after the stated date.

Companies must set a preferable period for consuming their beer. It helps to ensure its quality and flavor remains the way it’s supposed to. Regardless, it doesn’t mean that the beer becomes undrinkable the moment it reaches the dreaded day.

Many factors determine how long cold ones last. Here is what you need to know.

Average shelf life of a beer.

As stated, beers have an “expiration date” marked on the bottle or can, but that’s more of a guideline than law. It’s mostly for brewers to guarantee that customers won’t drink one that doesn’t taste as it should.

To be precise, beer usually lasts for six or nine months after what the label tells you. Cans are most likely to last longer than bottles; darker bottles last longer than clear ones.

While they don’t rot instantly, they lose their qualities. They may go flat and lose the foam, but they’re still drinkable.

What makes a beer go bad?

Beer is susceptible to many elements. While it’s the most-consumed alcoholic beverage, it’s also one of the easiest to spoil if left unguarded.

If you want your beer to last longer, you want to keep an eye on it. Brewers are very attentive to their product, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take a couple of measures to ensure your enjoyment. When it comes to beer, there are three main enemies you want to avoid. They’re light, oxygen, and any bacteria hanging around. They hate beer, and this is how they act on it.

  • Light.

Ultraviolet light has an effect on beer that’s similar to the one it has on your skin: harmful.

You shouldn’t leave your beer sitting under the sun for too long. If you do, the UV rays react with a chemical compound from the hops.

Hops are what gives each beer its distinct flavor. As such, the UV rays attack the center of your life. It gets worse! This reaction goes on until your beer ends up smelling like skunk spray. Yes, that’s the reason why dark bottles are so popular.

  • Oxygen.

Oxidation is what we know as aging. Oxygen interacts with the beer in the same way it does with everything. It breaks down the chemical compounds, and this generates different flavors for the beer.

What happens mostly is that the beer acquires a butter-like flavor. Oxygen can also react with other elements, and this causes different flavors. It can even end up tasting like cardboard! Bottled beers suffer from it more than cans. The latter tend to have a better seal, and beer comes in less contact with the air.

  • Bacteria.

Everything decays over time, and microbes are what cause it. Luckily, it takes a long time; alcohol preserves it naturally, for bacteria can’t survive in it. Commercial beer is also less prone to microbes. Brewers have better tools to minimize possible contamination.

Another great way to keep microorganisms away from your life nectar is to refrigerate it. Their life cycle slows down in the cold, and the yeast in ales does the same.

How to make beer last longer?

Now you know what makes your beer go bad, so it should be easier to think about how to prevent it. Keeping your beer in the right shape is nothing but keeping it away from what we just talked. We already mentioned some methods to increase your beer’s life span.

It’s all about how you store beer. The secret to keeping your drinks in the best shape possible boils down to how and where you store it. Here are some tips for doing it correctly.

  • Refrigeration.

Using a refrigerator to keep your beer is wise. First, it slows the beverage’s aging process, maintaining yeast and microbes growing slowly.

It also blocks the UV light outside the fridge. You effectively kill two birds with one stone. It’s best to store your beer at around 53 degrees, maybe a bit colder with cans.

It may be challenging to balance the temperature between the best one for storage and the best one for serving. That’s why specialized beer fridges exist.

  • Keep it somewhere dark.

As you know by now, UV light isn’t good for your beer. Sure, coolers keep the sun away from your beer, but what if you want to keep it at room temperature?

You can choose a room that’s cool and dark. The best place is a completely dark one. It’s important to note that blue light can also do some damage to your beer.

The best place for storing it is your basement or even a closet. Make sure they’re clean and as isolated as possible, so you don’t risk the bottles getting dirty or tipped over.

  • Leave it upright.

Do you remember what oxygen does to your beer? It’s also important to remember that gas travels upwards. With that in mind, you should keep your beer upright. Even if you keep the beer in your best fridge, it won’t hurt to store it this way.

By doing that, only the smallest portion of the beer comes in contact with the air. It slows down the oxidation process considerably.

On the other hand, keeping a bottle on its side does the opposite. It increases the surface area available to oxygen for speeding up the process.

  • Cans and bottles.

Lastly, you may have noticed that we keep mentioning bottles and cans individually. That’s because what contains the beer is critical for its duration.

Cans are always the best choice. They seal the contents from the exterior, and it’s almost impossible for any element to enter. After cans, the second-best is dark bottles. While they let sunlight reach beer, they greatly diminish its effects.

Lastly, green bottles offer much less protection, but they’re better than clear glass. The latter provides zero barriers against this threat.

How long is beer good for?

Beer spoiling doesn’t mean death. Beer can last for a long time after the recommended date. However, beer can still be “drinkable” for a long time after it starts tasting different.

The issue is that beer is supposed to taste excellent. Knowing it lasts forever is less important than knowing when it starts to lose its flavor. Old beer can be great, but skunked beer is a whole different issue. It’s when things start to get ugly. Since avoiding it should be your objective, we’ll delve into it.

Skunked Beer.

Skunked beer is the archetype of spoiled beer. It tastes and smells like the scent of a skunk; it’s because the chemical composition is the same. Skunked beer has seen descriptions like having a rubbery feel. A more specific account is that it’s like burned rubber. Others say it’s musty, like cat musk.

Finally, others agree that it’s like a combination of skunk scent and a particularly musty basement. Oxidized beer is also called skunked beer now and then. In this case, the taste is closer to paper or cardboard.

What makes a beer “skunked”?

While oxidized beer gets called “skunked” sometimes, the real reason isn’t oxygen but blue light.

This type of light comes from either the Sun or fluorescent lightbulbs. It creates isohumulones when it reaches a cold one. The component reacts with the hydrogen sulfide from yeast and creates mercaptan.

Here’s where it gets icky.

Mercaptan is also known as the chemical compound found in skunk secretion. That’s why it’s called “skunked beer”. The reaction is fast as well. It may take a day or two for a beer to change completely, but it only needs a few minutes under strong sunlight for the flavor to start changing.

Misconceptions about skunked beer.

Skunked beer can be a mystery for many. From how it originates to why it smells so bad, there are may questions. However, some questions are answered the first time incorrectly, and they stay like that forever. It’s time to stop that.

  • Origin of the flavor.

Some people believe that skunked beer comes from leaving your cold beer reach room temperature. Others are certain that the skunk is part of the brewing methods of some brands. They all have one thing in common: being wrong.

We already stated that a chemical process generates the aroma. In fact, connoisseurs of the fine arts of beer crafting also call it “lightstruck” beer.

  • Light exposure required.

All it takes for the skunk to begin is UV light reaching the beer. Once it happens, the reaction between the rays and the compounds in your beverage starts. Most people believe that the process takes hours or days for the change to be noticeable. However, the reaction begins as soon as the contact occurs.

In reality, you can leave a clear glass with beer for a minute under direct sunlight. When you pick it up and taste it, you’ll be able to feel the change. Be careful of where you leave your pint!

  • Skunk is part of the beer.

Skunked beer has become so common that many believe it’s the intended taste in some brands. No, skunked beer isn’t intentional. Who would want their beer to taste like skunk secretions?

The bottle plays an important part, but it’s not always that brewers decide how stores and supermarkets keep their product.

Many believe that Corona or Heineken are supposed to taste with a little skunk. However, if you drink them from a can instead of a bottle, you’ll notice a big difference.

If your drink tastes skunky, it’s time to get your beer from somewhere else.

What to do with Skunked Beer?

We know it’s tough to lose a cold one to skunking, but letting it go to waste makes everything worse. Your beer doesn’t deserve to be forgotten. You don’t deserve to be the guy who let his beer die in vain.

There are other uses for skunked beer, so read below to learn how to give a better farewell to your refreshing partner.

  • Use it for cooking.

You can create some exotic flavors by using skunked beer when cooking. You should use it sparingly to avoid ruining the taste with the strong skunk. However, using it to boil sausages or making marinades isn’t a bad idea. It’s important to note that the level of “skunkness” plays a massive role in this method.

The longer you leave your beer to skunk, the harder it’ll be to produce a tasty dish.

  • Pour it on your lawn.

Some people use spoiled beer as fertilizer for their lawn. Live yeast won’t do anything to it, but dead yeast and the other nutrients in your drink will. In this case, it’s better to let your skunked beer get stronger.

The alcohol shouldn’t damage anything unless its alcohol content is high. The best you can do in this case is to test it on a small and secluded spot. This method could be the best for that beer that you left in the sun for a week.

  • Turn it into vinegar.

It’s easy to find a brewer that recommends this. After all, vinegar is essentially wine left to spoil. It’s easy to find a good use for the vinegar once you make it. All you have to do is control “how” the beer goes bad.

Vinegar has a strong flavor naturally, but you still don’t want the skunk to be too noticeable. You’re using it for cooking, after all, but you don’t need to stress as much about the skunk.

If your beer perishes, you can still salvage its soul by distilling it into this type of “whiskey”. Yes, it may get you in trouble, but it’s still better than letting it go to waste.

The important part about doing this is to be careful about fusel alcohols. They’re responsible for the infamous “moonshine blindness.”

Another issue is that a single spoiled beer won’t yield much, and you’ll have to hand it over to someone who knows what they’re doing.

  • Bait snails with it.

Snails are a pain for people trying to keep their garden pretty. They can wreck your lawn, so it’s vital to keep them at bay. The good thing is that beer attracts them. Snails feel drawn towards it and then drown after falling into it. Leaving a dish with beer outside overnight is sure to capture many of them.

The best part is that it works even if you only lost half of your bottle.

  • Use it as shampoo or soap (seriously).

Beer can make hair shine, and it also fights dandruff. To achieve beer shampoo isn’t complicated. You only need to boil the beer until it’s half the original volume. It eliminates the alcohol that could damage your hair.

After that, all you need to do is mix it with any shampoo and pour it into a bottle.

The process should eliminate or reduce the skunk smell, but you can add other elements to make it more pleasant.

  • Mix it with other ingredients.

Again, you can’t let your beer get too skunked if you want this to work.

However, mixing slightly-skunked beer with other ingredients can produce exciting results. A light skunk can give a new feel to a bitter cocktail or similar beverages. The more you like bitter drinks, the more you can let it get skunked. Keep in mind that these flavors aren’t suitable for everyone.

  • Just drink it!

Skunked beer isn’t harmful. It only tastes bad. If you only allowed a few minutes of sunlight, you may not even notice the change! That’s especially true if you already had a few beers before.

Additionally, you can always give it to someone who loves beer intensely or who likes exotic flavors. We all know people like that.

If anything, you can play anything with your friends and make the loser drink the skunked beer!

Lead marketer, brewer, dad, and husband. Pretty much an all-round awesome guy.